Sisters schools just received a boost that will help them propel math, science, and engineering learning into real-world 21st-century applications.
The school district last week was awarded a $196,500 Career and Technical Education (CTE) grant to enhance and create integrated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at Sisters High School and Sisters Middle School.
The grant is one of eight awarded across Oregon by the Oregon Department of Education and the Bureau of Labor and Industry.
"Career and technical education is making a difference for students and communities around the state," said Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. "The reason that there's such immense local and private-sector support for the return of 21st-century shop classes and STEM education is that employers understand that these programs mean jobs and economic growth for Oregon."
The grant will help the district build upon existing classes to create a systematic "Integrated Engineering Curriculum."
"We will infuse these programs, as well as foundational courses in math and science, with new instructional methodologies based on current manufacturing and engineering industry practices," the district wrote in its grant application. "We fully anticipate that this project will prepare the students involved for high-wage/high-demand occupations in STEM-related fields."
The grant will purchase equipment for a dedicated engineering computer lab, drafting tools, power tools and an all-weather outdoor facility for construction projects. It will also fund curriculum- and professional-development time for creating and refining the program.
According to Sisters High School Principal Joe Hosang, the program is scheduled to be on line by September 2015.
Hosang noted that teacher Rob Corrigan, with backing from the Sisters Science Club, has already laid some of the groundwork for this program, creating an engineering class that applies concepts in a hands-on manner.
Hands-on application is a key part of the program. Hosang notes that many students learn better through practical application of concepts. The curriculum will include "contextual algebra" and "contextual geometry."
In these classes, the students will learn all state standards for algebra and geometry through a thematic approach, the grant application states. "The themes will vary, but all should be project-based, hands-on problem-solving that utilize math principals from taking out a loan to designing and building a house."
The grant envisions a middle school component, introducing students to architectural design.
The district will continue to work with community partners to deliver hands-on education - partners like the Sisters Science Club; ENERGYneering Solutions, Inc.; Sisters Folk Festival (through its luthier and ukulele-building programs); and others.
While the grant cannot be considered backfill for the budget shortfall currently facing the district, it does provide wherewithal to continue to deliver quality education in the face of significant financial constraints.
Hosang believes strongly in this kind of education and is excited about the opportunities the grant represents.
"One thing I believe in strongly is interdisciplinary classes," he said. "It's a little bit of my passion."
The BOLI/ODE grant will enable the district to create a system of interdisciplinary classes that relate directly to the job market of today and the years to come.